Sometimes chocolate shops overwhelm me. When confronted with case after case of goodness, I tend to stick with my old standby, the cherry cordial. Do you remember Chocolat, the book by Joanne Harris, and also a film with Johnny Depp? Vianne (played by Juliette Binoche), the chocolatier, has a knack for guessing the townspeople’s favorites and says that you can tell a lot about a person by his chocolate preferences. I wonder what cherry cordials say about me? Perhaps that my true interior leaks out to mar my glossy outer shell, no matter how hard I try to keep the juicy sweetness bound inside.
My mom is a caramel girl all the way. Salt caramels enrobed in dark chocolate are her thing. Does that mean she is more complex than she first appears? Or perhaps that she is sticky and tenacious? Could be. Or it could simply be that there is nothing better than the way the salty sweetness lingers on the roof of your mouth.
This weekend, as a friend and I went on a bonbon-making jag, I was determinted to master those perfect caramels. I’ll tell you this – it’s not easy! Great caramel requires precision and patience. The ingredients are simple, but the key to developing spectacular flavor is in the details. It took a few tries for us to get it right, but we triumphed. We made two kinds of truffles and three different cremes, but the caramels were truly the loveliest of our confectionary treasures.
Do use good salt here, as the flavor comes through strongly. It might be fun to experiment with a variety of different salts. I actually have some beautiful pink salt from Hawaii that would look lovely against a backdrop of shiny dark chocolate that I think I’ll use next time. Certainly a smoked salt would be worth a try, as well. If you don’t want to cover the caramels in chocolate, they are lovely as is. As the caramels begin to cool, sprinkle them with a bit of the salt (it will melt into the caramel), then cut and wrap individually in wax paper. These make great gifts, chocolate covered or not (yes Mom, I promise a batch is coming your way the next time I see you).
Dark Chocolate Salt Caramels
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons salted butter, cut in small pieces
1 1/3 cups light brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
8 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon grey salt
Heat the cream, vanilla, butter, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring. Bring the mixture to a boil, keeping the heat at medium. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover (do not stir) and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. Meanwhile, prepare a small (6 by 6 inch square) baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and let cool. When the caramel is still slightly soft, score the top into squares and then leave aside to cool completely. Once the caramel is cooled, cut the squares. Place the cut squares in the refrigerator to firm even further while you prepare the chocolate.
To temper the chocolate, melt about half of the chopped chocolate in the microwave in 20 second bursts on low power, stirring in between. Continue to heat in 20 second bursts until the temperature of the chocolate reaches 113-115 degrees on a candy thermometer. Add the remaining chocolate one handful at a time, stirring quickly to melt each handful, until the temperature drops to 88-89 degrees. You may not use all of the reserved chocolate.
Working quickly, dip each caramel in the tempered chocolate, tapping off the excess, and place on parchment paper to cool. If the temperature of the chocolate drops, reheat it in the microwave for 10 seconds on low, being careful not to heat above 89 degrees. Before the chocolate completely hardens on each caramel, sprinkle with a bit of the grey salt. Allow the chocolate to harden completely. Store caramels in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.